Day 9: Hurrem
Consort, concubine, badass

So when you look this woman up, you will generally find her under the name the Europeans called her: Roxelana. However, since this project is all about reclaiming space and asserting voices, I insist on using the name given to her by the Ottomans, Haseki Hurrem Sultan. 

For those of you who don’t know a lot about the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period, the system worked like this. The sultan had several concubines with whom he would have sex until they had a son. Once a concubine had a son and became the mother of a prince, she would be removed from the harem and become devoted to her duties as a mother. When her son was sent off to be educated and rule his own area, she would follow him.

This changed with Hurrem. She was the favorite concubine of the sultan Suleiman I (Suleyman the Magnificent to the Europeans) and in a great breaking from tradition, he legally married her and she had multiple children, five sons and one daughter. Hurrem was extraordinarily intelligent and became an influential figure in Ottoman politics. She influenced Suleiman to murder his eldest son (by another woman), Mustafa, in order to further her own sons’ political careers. She also played a large role in encouraging the execution of Suleiman’s grand vizier Ibrahim, with whom she did not get along,

Hurrem engaged in a great deal of charity work which resulted in buildings that survive to this day and preserve her legacy. Perhaps most notable is the Haseki Sultan Complex, which contained a mosque, a soup-kitchen, a madrasa (a type of educational institution), and a women’s hospital. It was the third largest building in Istanbul, behind only the complexes of her husband and the sultan Mehmed I. This demonstrates just how important Hurrem was.

The period following Hurrem is known as the Sultanate of Women. During this nearly 130 year period, the women of the imperial harem exerted a tremendous amount of influence over their sultan and state policy. Many of the queen mothers effectively ruled the empire themselves while their sons were young.

To anyone interested in this topic, which I, at least, find really cool, I recommend the book The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie Peirce.

Also, as of 12 March, I will be traveling for the rest of the month. However, I really want to make sure that there are still daily profiles. By necessity, they will not be nearly as long or in depth as the ones I’ve done so far this month. I’m thinking the name, a picture, the dates she lived, her main accomplishments, and a link to her wikipedia page (I know, I know, but it’ll be the easiest source to find). I hope to resume posts of this length on a weekly basis when I return because they’re super fun and have gotten a great response.